Australia · books · challenges · realities · writing

Excited trepidation

Sometimes, even birds get in a tizz.
Sometimes, even birds get in a tizz.

This morning, the university study schedule and information has been released for the two units I am enrolled in for session one, which begins next week, and as I printed out Study Guides and Unit Information Guides this morning I felt the familiar bubble of excited anticipation I usually feel at the beginning of a new learning journey.

Mingled with the excitement, however, I also experienced a fairly large chunk of trepidation.

I’m enrolled in the Associate Degree in Creative Writing and have so far completed three of the sixteen units. The first two units, which I completed well before the end of last year in session two of the study year, progressed wonderfully. Nothing untoward happened, I learned lessons which I will continue to carry with me throughout the associate degree and beyond, and I became friendly with some like-minded, ‘mature aged’ students who are experiencing a similar learning process to my own. I took the opportunity to complete my third unit over the Christmas/New Year period, during session three, again feeling eagerness and anticipation over the content of the coming twelve weeks study and assignment tasks.

It was during the latter weeks of this third unit that I began to feel the effects of information overload, brought about by political leanings, opinionated unit content and the evident desire of the authors of the learning materials to neatly package groups of people together in what they described as minority group and label each group with its (apparent) appropriate sticker.

At the point in the unit that I began questioning the learning process, we were discussing the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

An academic may, upon the mention of Jane Eyre, nod knowingly and mutter ‘ah yes, Jane Eyre‘, whilst realising the popular train of thought offered by university lecturers and those people who possess a biting, critical and analytical mind for all texts written since the beginning of time. For the uninitiated student such as myself, however, the Study Guide materials and ensuing discussions came as something of a shock.

What did I expect when I enrolled in this unit? Jane Eyre was listed as one of the Written Texts students would study during this unit, along with several other books. I’ve read Jane Eyre and although I found Brontë’s 19th-century style of speech difficult to read in the beginning, after the first few pages I began to enjoy the experience of reading a book written authentically in the time frame. Historical writing, such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, whilst written historically, were not written in 1743, the year in which the female protagonist, Clare Randall, found herself after falling through a time-warp amid the stones at Craigh na Dun during a visit to Scotland in 1946. Jane Eyre, on the other hand, was published in 1847 and written during a time when females were not regarded as having anything worthwhile to say and not accepted as authors worthy of publication. Charlotte Brontë, like other female authors of her time, stepped around this technicality by releasing her early writing under the nom de plume of Currer Bell, a fact which I found fascinating and a sign of those times. During reading Jane Eyre I marvelled at the changes in society during the past one-hundred-and-seventy years and silently thanked the suffragettes, and various other the women throughout time who have fought the battle, and won, for equal right for women. I had expected discussions throughout this unit to be comparisons of writing styles during various time frames; I expected admiration for female authors, such as Charlotte Brontë who led the way in fighting a male dominated society, hence breaking down the barriers, enabling the opportunity for me to write today.

I was wrong. We were expected to read the assigned texts from the only point of view we have available to us, which is now, placing all of the judgements we know to be ‘correct’ today, on a text which was written one-hundred-and-seventy years ago. Apparently, Charlotte Brontë wrote from a narrow and limited point of view and should have known better than to portray Rochester’s first wife as a Creole, which (apparently) emphasised the bigoted outlook of the English.

This line of discussion, (especially relating to the apparent prejudice of English folk whose soul purpose was to colonise and the entire world) was held right at the time when heated debate was rife over Donald Trump’s controversial election as the American President. And perhaps this unit’s discussion board conversations fell victim of the overflow of anguish spilling across from the other side of the world. It didn’t help the situation any when these events coincided with Australia celebrating yet another ‘Australia Day’, meant to bring the citizens of this country together as we sing the praises of the country we love, yet in recent years has been described as ‘invasion day’ by some people who are indigenous, part indigenous or indigenous sympathisers in this country. Before I realised what was happening, the discussion board debate turned political. In the university environment, where the study guides describe our once heralded ‘Australia Day’ as invasion day (a point which I usually overlook, and read on) my once-expected-to-be pleasurable debate and learning experience turned into an emotionally draining nightmare.

If you have read this far, and are a regular reader of my blog posts, no doubt you are asking why I chose to participate in the discussion board debacle, when it obviously upset my equilibrium. Ten percent of the grade awarded at the end of the unit is assessed on personal participation to the discussion board. I seriously considered whether it was worth the ten percent, but as the unit was nearing the end when I became positively rattled, I chose to stick it out.

As I begin to study two new units, again verging into the unknown, I have not developed any expectations of the unit content. I now know to expect the unexpected, however, the trepidation is there. I do not wish to feel like an emotionally drained, rung-out old dish cloth at the end of what should be a pleasant learning journey. I hope that this most recent experience is a one-time event. I question how the topic of discussion I endured will help me to become a better writer, (which is why I signed up for the Associate Degree in Creative Writing) and will remain open to a proverbial penny dropping moment in the future.

For assignment 4, discussion board participation, my grade was a high distinction, yet in hindsight, I feel I paid too a high a price for the ultimate accolade, which was such a small aspect of the unit.

And please, anyone who feels inclined to comment regarding anything political or controversial, I respectfully ask you to please refrain from any such observations. These mentions were only made to describe a situation, not to open further debate.

Thank you, dear reader, for lending your ear (eye?) as I again venture into the unknown, this time literally prepared – in a suit of armour.

Australia · Pacific Ocean · photography · South West Rocks · travels

The stories these ruins could tell: Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, N.S.W.

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An assignment I recently completed through the University of Tasmania, The Photo Essay, called for a series of seven to ten photos, each captioned, to tell a progressive story of the students’ choice. I spent several weeks away from home late last year and found photo opportunities everywhere I went, so the difficulty with this assignment was choosing which series of ten photos would tell the most interesting story.

The last time I visited Trial Bay Gaol at South West Rocks it was too early in the day for the ruins to be open to tourists, but I did enjoy a lovely visit from a family of curious kangaroos, who had spent the night ‘behind bars’. This visit, however, the gaol was open to the public, so my husband and I spent some time wandering around the confines, camera in hand, learning some fascinating history of this beautiful area.

Last Friday, the grades for the assignment were released and I was thrilled with my mark of 46/50! And the assignment reminded me so much of a blog post (written as a Word document) that I decided to share it with you today –

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The stories these ruins could tell: Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, N.S.W.

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After walking through the entry of Trial Bay Gaol to the inner confines, the historic relevance is immediately evident. Now a South West Rocks tourist attraction, the roofless ruins stand as testimony to a time over a century ago when these buildings were used for a different purpose than they are today.

 

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Arriving in 1876, the first high-risk prisoners’ days involved carrying out hard labour. At the end of the day, these inmates were searched and locked in their cells for the night, with lights out at 9 pm.

 

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In an innovative project for the time, from 1889 the prison accommodated low risk, end of term inmates whilst they built a breakwater at Trial Bay to offer a safe retreat for passing ships. These prisoners learnt trades and skills while earning a small salary for their work.

Multiple arches provide visual portals into the inner reaches of the buildings, offering glimpses of what lies beyond.

 

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A mock prisoner demonstrates the sparseness of the cells and confined space, behind the bars of the securely locked cell door. Living a solitary life for many years did not bode well for some inmates who suffered psychologically from the isolation.

 

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In 1903 the prison was temporarily closed but reopened again between 1915 and 1918 to be used as an internment camp. After the outbreak of World War I, German men living in Australia were regarded as a threat to the security of the Empire, therefore, some wealthier and better-educated men were confined at Trial Bay Gaol. During these years, interns built three tennis court in a disused quarry near to the gaol, enjoying the recreational facilities the courts offered.

 

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Climbing approximately forty stairs to a tower overlooking the nearby surrounds, warders kept watch for ships in distress along the Pacific Ocean seafront. The gaol owned an old rescue boat which they used when necessary. The tower also served as an outlook for any escaped prisoners and of the eighteen escapees during 1887 and 1901, most were captured.

 

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Within the three rooms of the kitchen, including a scullery and bakehouse, prisoners prepared meals for their fellow inmates on a wood fired stove. The large display picture shows the activity of inmates in a room now stripped of any evidence of its past use.

 

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In a display of nurturing in the grounds of the gaol, a family of kangaroos pass away the hours, content within the safe enclosure of the gaol grounds. Signs in the area advise visitors not to approach the kangaroos, who can show aggression.

 

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Situated amid a display of old photographs, this scene shows the gaol intact and in full use. The section of the building on the far right with the arched opening still stands today. The buildings behind have since lost their roofs.

 

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After the gaol’s final closure in 1918, the buildings were left abandoned. Since the 1960’s the old gaol ruins have become a tourist attraction, displaying the majestic sandstone buildings with details of the historic events that have taken place during the last one-hundred-and-forty years.

What a story these ruins can tell.

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